Israel’s Boycott Bill and the U.S.-Israel Alliance

ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF

Source: The Atlantic, 7-19-11

Is Israel’s step away from free speech also a step away from its most important ally?

koplow july19 p.jpg

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a Likud party meeting in Jerusalem / Reuters

The vote last week by the Israeli Knesset to pass the “boycott bill,” which subjects anyone calling for a boycott of Israel or the settlements to lawsuits and severe penalties, was intended, according to its sponsor, Likud member Zeev Elkin, to make it easier to fight back against those seeking to delegitimize Israel and to ensure Israel’s accepted place in the global community. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted on Wednesday that the ban on calls for a boycott is not a violation of democratic principles and does not tarnish Israel’s reputation. He called the condemnations of Israel over the law unfair “attacks on a democracy’s attempt to draw a line between what is acceptable and what is not.” Netanyahu and the law’s supporters may indeed believe that banning Israeli citizens from calling for boycotts will strengthen Israel’s standing in the world by eliminating what they see as a potential fifth column of enemies within, but the unfortunate reality is that this law will have the exact opposite effect of that which Elkin intended. By enacting a law with such anti-democratic overtones, and that explicitly embraces the settlements as equivalent with Israel proper, Israel is putting its global status in peril by endangering its crucial support from the United States….READ MORE

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Simcha Katz: OU president slams US Jewish groups over anti-boycott law

ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF

Source: Jerusalem Post, 7-19-11

Orthodox Union head urges US Jews, who don’t pay Israel taxes or serve IDF, to keep from criticizing Israeli policy.

OU President Simcha Katz
Photo by: Marc Israel Sellem

The president of the Orthodox Union on Monday slammed the US Jewish groups who recently chastised Israel over the anti-boycott law.

“We live in the United States, we haven’t served in the army, we don’t pay taxes [in Israel], so it would be inappropriate for us to publicly, in some fashion, criticize Israel on what they do to protect themselves,” said Simcha Katz.

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The new law, which passed in the Knesset last Monday, enables citizens to file civil suits against people or organizations that call for economic, cultural or academic boycotts against Israel, Israeli institutions or regions under Israeli control, and prevents the government from doing business with companies that initiate or comply with such boycotts.

American Jewish groups ranging from J-Street to Zionists of America, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the ADL, Americans for Peace Now and the New Israel Fund all spoke out against the law.

“On a personal level,” Katz noted, “I fully agree with the anti-boycott legislation. It was based on US legislation, which has criminal components to it. This doesn’t have criminal components to it; essentially, it’s a financial potential component.

“I was reading that Telrad, one of the companies in Israel, was selling products to the Palestinians – but part of the deal was that they couldn’t buy from Judea and Samaria. I find that outrageous,” said Katz.

“On a personal level, I’m fully in support of that particular law. Generally we support the Israeli government per se. The OU hasn’t taken a position, and generally we are supportive of what the Israeli government in power does,” he reiterated.

The OU was notably silent on last year’s conversion bill controversy as well, a topic Katz said his movement was not an expert in, so there was no point in getting involved.

“Look, we’re into tachles, to accomplishing things, we do things in the field – that’s what we’re interested in. So we want to be very supportive of the Israeli government, [and] meanwhile we’re involved in a lot of activities.

Press releases are not what we’re interested in.”…READ MORE

The Brouhaha over Israel’s Boycott Bill

ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF

Source: Gill Hoffman, Jerusalem Post, 7-15-11

Both the Left, the Right had an interest in keeping the bill at the top of the news, but only the PM had a vested interest in keeping quiet.

The penalties for violating the anti-boycott law are severe. They include a fine of up to $50,000 or five times the value of the product boycotted – whichever is greater – and imprisonment for up to five years and in some cases up to 10. Companies that comply with boycotts can also lose their export privileges and be barred from operating.

It is no wonder the law that passed in the Knesset Monday night attracted so much attention and dominated the headlines this week. There’s only one problem. The penalties referred to above are part of the Export Administration Act of 1979 – in the United States, not in Israel.

The American law was intended to prevent US companies from supporting the boycott of Israel instituted by the Arab League. The US Department of Commerce website lists examples of violations of the law by companies, based in several Muslim countries, that were punished.

Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting, Sunday.
Photo by: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters
The Israeli law, by contrast, has no criminal element or stated penalty. It merely allows citizens to bring civil suits against people and organizations that call for economic, cultural, or academic boycotts against Israel, Israeli institutions, or “regions under Israeli control.” It also prevents the government from doing business with companies that initiate or comply with boycotts.

So why was there such a brouhaha over the boycott bill? The answer – as usual – comes down to politics. Both the Left and the Right had an interest in keeping the bill at the top of the news.

There was just one man who had a vested interest in keeping things quiet: Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

The Left has an interest in painting Netanyahu as a right-wing extremist who conspires with the settlers against the legal establishment, the rule of law, and the international community. They want the public to think the world is upset at the Israeli government and that the Jewish state is becoming increasingly isolated. Left-wing organizations intensified their efforts against the boycott bill after it had already passed, in an effort to create a public atmosphere that would encourage the High Court to reject the bill and discourage wavering MKs from supporting bills that would take action against those organizations, which will come to a vote next week. The ultimate goal of the Left is to persuade centrists that Netanyahu has resumed his battles against the elites, which helped end his first term prematurely.

Netanyahu was toppled by the Right following the Wye River Accord, but it was the centrists who laid the foundation for his downfall. The Right has an interest in targeting those very same elites in the legal establishment, who are extremely unpopular among that constituency, and the international community, which is seen by the Right as hopelessly anti-Israel. Sponsors of such legislation would be more popular among the hawks loyal to Likud activist Moshe Feiglin, who dominate the party’s membership that will choose its next Knesset slate.

Coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) initiated the bill following reports that companies had accepted contracts to build the new Palestinian city of Rawabi that were contingent on accepting boycotts of Israeli settlements.

Efforts by actors to boycott a new cultural center in Ariel also inspired the bill. But Elkin blames the media attention on the Left. Had the Kadima MKs who initially sponsored the bill with him not been persuaded to turn against it, he said, he would have been able to pass it by consensus without making waves.

Stuck in the middle, between media-hungry politicians and non-governmental organizations on both the Left and the Right, was Netanyahu, who apparently tried unsuccessfully to hide. On Sunday afternoon, he told Elkin that he wasn’t sure whether the bill should be postponed because of the Quartet meeting taking place in Washington and because of the legislation’s legal ramifications. Elkin told him he was willing to wait a week to prevent diplomatic damage to Israel, but that delays would only increase pressure.

Hours later, Netanyahu’s associates briefed Hebrew newspapers ahead of their deadlines, without his knowledge, that he would likely support a delay. But when he emerged from a late-night inner security cabinet meeting about the Quartet, the prime minister said he had made no such decision.

The newspapers were forced to spend vast sums on printing second editions with opposite headlines in the middle of the night. Only The Jerusalem Post had the right headline from the start, because a different Netanyahu aide had provided correct information. When the Post objected to not being given the same late-night briefing as the other newspapers, the prime minister’s spokesman said it was the first time a reporter had complained about being the only one with the correct headline.

Netanyahu did not delay the vote, but he also didn’t show up for it. A source close to him said he was visiting his father-in-law, Shmuel Ben-Artzi, on his death bed at Hadassah-University Medical Center, Ein Kerem, but the mystery of the prime minister’s whereabouts was perpetuated by his spokesman saying he “could not address the issue” of Netanyahu’s absence. The prime minister didn’t show up at the Knesset at all that day, missing a vote of no-confidence in his government for the first time.

In his Knesset speech Wednesday, Netanyahu came out firmly in support of the bill and said it never would have passed without his blessing. But he also made a point of defending the High Court in his speech and later leaking that he would not back Israel Beiteinu’s bill to form a parliamentary inquiry committee for investigating NGOs, or Elkin’s new proposal to initiate hearings for High Court judges.

Netanyahu was careful to not open up a front against the legal establishment and elites, but also to not be seen as being dragged behind hawks in his coalition. When he returned to the Prime Minister’s Office two years ago, he vowed to learn from the mistakes he made in his first term. But two of those mistakes – fighting the elites and not keeping his coalition strong – clashed this week.

Benjamin Netanyahu defends anti-boycott law

ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF

Source: JTA, 7-13-11

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended Israel’s new anti-boycott law from criticism that it damages Israel’s image and is anti-democratic.

“What stains (Israel’s) image are those savage and irresponsible attacks on a democracy’s attempt to draw a line between what is acceptable and what is not,” he told the Knesset on Wednesday, according to Haaretz.

The law allows for monetary sanctions against those who encourage boycotts against Israel or areas it controls, such as West Bank settlements. The bill would allow those damaged by boycotts to sue those who advocate such measures.

Netanyahu, who was absent Monday night when the Knesset approved the law by a vote of 45 to 38, expressed his firm support for the law.

“Don’t be confused – I authorized the bill. If I hadn’t authorized it, it wouldn’t have gotten here,” Netanyahu said, according to The Jerusalem Post. “I am opposed to boycotts against Israel and boycotts against groups within Israel. I oppose boycotts of Arabs, of haredi people and of any citizens of Israel.”

The leader of the opposition Kadima Party, Tzipi Livni, blasted Netanyahu during the Knesset session, which was called by her party. “You are leading Isreal into the abyss,” she said, according to Haaretz.

A variety of left-wing NGOs and civil rights groups are pursuing efforts to get the Israeli Supreme Court to overturn the anti-boycott law. NGO Monitor, a pro-Israel watchdog group criticial of left-wing NGOs, also expressed concern about the new law.

Leaders of a number of American Jewish groups also have criticized the law as an abridgement of freedom of expression.

“The anti-boycott law is undemocratic,” the American Jewish Committee said in a statement Wednesday. “It ironically has already harmed, rather than helped, our community’s overall efforts to defeat those groups who challenge Israel’s legitimacy.”

On the right, the Zionist Organization of America said it opposes such laws in principle. On the left, Jewish Voice for Peace, which has sponsored and supported targeted boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaigns, called the law “anti-democratic.” Other U.S. groups, including the Union for Reform Judaism, the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Americans for Peace Now, J Street, Ameinu and the New Israel Fund have also come out against the law.

A spokesperson for the European Union’s foreign policy chief also raised concerns about the new law on Wednesday.

“The EU recognizes Israel’s sovereignty in the legislative process. Furthermore, the EU does not advocate boycotts,” the spokesperson for Catherine Ashton, the foreign policy chief, said in a statement. “However, as part of such fundamental values as free expression and speech that the EU cherishes and shares with Israel, we are concerned about the effect that this legislation may have on the freedom of Israeli citizens and organizations to express non-violent political opinions.”

Israel’s approval of anti-boycott bill drawing protests, legal challenges

ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF

Source: JTA, 7-12-11

The Israeli parliament’s adoption of a controversial anti-boycott bill has been greeted with a firestorm of protest from liberal Israeli NGOs and civil rights groups.

On Tuesday, a day after the Knesset voted 47-38 to enact the measure following six hours of contentious debate, the liberal Gush Shalom movement appealed to the nation’s Supreme Court to overturn the law. Other Israeli nongovernmental organizations are vowing legal challenges, too.

“The Boycott Law will lead to unprecedented harm to freedom of expression in Israel and will bring justified criticism against Israel from abroad,” Hagai El-Ad, executive director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said in a statement issued following the vote. “We will all have to pay the price for this atrocious law.”

The bill, which was initiated by Likud lawmaker and ruling coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin, allows for civil lawsuits against individuals and groups calling for boycotts targeting Israel or areas under its control. Those damaged by boycotts would be able to claim monetary damages from boycott advocates. The law also would force the government to stop doing business with companies that comply with such boycotts.

Elkin’s proposal came months after some prominent Israeli artists had called for a boycott of a new cultural center in the West Bank city of Ariel, and some academics had urged a boycott of academic institutions in the West Bank. In addition, an Israeli construction company was hired to help build a new Palestinian city in the West Bank after it agreed not to use products from the settlements.

“It’s a principle of democracy that you don’t shun a public you disagree with by harming their livelihood,” said Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz of the Likud Party during the debate over the new law. “A boycott on a certain sector is not the proper manifestation of freedom of expression. It is an aggressive move meant to force a sector that thinks a different way to capitulate. Boycotts are aggressive and wrong.”…READ MORE

Israel Anti-boycott bill becomes law after passing Knesset

ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF

Bill to provide civil penalties for anyone calling for boycott on Israel, settlements; Knesset legal adviser: Legislation may fail High Court test.

The Knesset adjourning for its spring break.
Photo by: Courtesy

The “Boycott Bill” was approved in its final reading in the Knesset on Monday night, after a plenum discussion that lasted nearly six hours and uncertainty throughout the day as to whether a vote would take place.

The bill passed with 47 in favor and 38 opposed, despite the fact that most Shas lawmakers were absent because of MK Nissim Ze’ev’s daughter’s wedding.

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In addition, many cabinet members – including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu – did not attend the vote and the Independence faction chose not to participate.

Netanyahu’s spokesman would not comment on why the prime minister did not vote.

Earlier on Monday, the legislation’s sponsor, coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud), and like-minded MKs held a press conference in support of the anti-boycott bill, after Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and his deputies voted five to three to bring it to the plenum.

“This bill defends the State of Israel,” Elkin said. “We have no right to ask our allies to do the same, if an Israeli citizen can do as he wishes.”

The new law allows citizens to bring civil suits against persons and organizations that call for economic, cultural or academic boycotts against Israel, Israeli institutions or regions under Israeli control. It also prevents the government from doing business with companies that initiate or comply with such boycotts.

Elkin defended the measure, calling it “vegetarian” and saying that its meat was removed when the clause making boycotts a criminal offense was removed.

“The law says that if you harm me [with a boycott], I have the right to ask for damages, and if you boycott the State of Israel, don’t ask it for benefits,” he said. “It was significantly softened.”…READ MORE

Israeli Bill Reflects Frustration With Academics Who Support Boycotts

Source: Chronicle of Higher Education, 7-14-10

Israeli Bill Reflects Frustration With Academics Who Support Boycotts 1Gideon Sa’ar, Israel’s education minister (left, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu), says he welcomes sanctions against professors at public universities who support boycotts. (David Silverman, AP Images)Enlarge Image //

An effort to discourage Israeli public-university professors and others from supporting boycotts of the Jewish state is roiling the country’s academics.

While an academic boycott and other efforts to isolate the country have long been debated, recent public condemnation of Israel’s botched military raid on a flotilla of ships bound for Gaza has heated up the political situation.

Israeli legislators, feeling embattled by hostile world opinion, are considering a series of measures responding to what they regard as inappropriate sanctions against their country and its leaders, some of whom have been threatened with arrest for alleged war crimes.

A bill introduced in June in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, proposes that Israelis could be sued by anyone affected by a boycott and forced to pay up to $8,000 in damages. Foreigners could find themselves banned from entering Israel for 10 years and denied the ability to hold a bank account or purchase land.

The primary target of the new legislation, which is sponsored by 24 of 120 Knesset members, is the Palestinian Authority boycott of goods from Israeli settlements, which has also won support from some European countries.

But according to a draft of the bill, supporters of academic boycotts would be included in its provisions. Such boycotts urge professors and students not to attend academic conferences in Israel, not to invite Israeli scholars to conferences, not to accept them as students or faculty members in their own institutions, and not to publish scholarly articles by Israelis….READ MORE

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